Hey guys! So this post was supposed to be published ages ago but due to my exams at school and other factors, I just never found the time to sit down and fully transpose this interview into a blog post. I’m excited that you all will finally get to read this interview and have an insight into the life of an author. Andy Sanders is a children’s author and illustrator from Hull who wrote ‘I have an orange juicy drink’ which my little cousin Orlaith reviewed for me. He is obviously very passionate about his work and he has a real talent for illustrating and writing books that engage young children. I really appreciate that he took the time to conduct this interview so a massive thank you to Andy! So in today’s post, I’m going to share this interview with Andy Sanders with you all.
- DESCRIBE YOUR JOB – I do kids picture books as that’s what I’ve always wanted to do since I was little. I was very lucky that I went off to university and learnt how to do it and then I managed to get an agent who helps me to find publishers. Basically, I just draw pretty pictures and write silly stories and people pay me money to do it which is a very very good job to have.
- TALK TO ME ABOUT THE JOURNEY THAT YOU TOOK TO ULTIMATELY HAVE THIS JOB – With the job that I’m in, it’s the kind of thing that you have to want to do and you can’t just fall into it. You really have to have a passion for it and I never really grew out of it when I was a kid. I used to enjoy writing silly stories and drawing silly pictures. When I was 18, I went off to university to study animation because I thought I wanted to do things like Wallace and Gromit or Bob the builder. Whilst I was there, I realised that it was a lot of work and it takes ages to do! Instead of doing that I decided to do kids picture books as I like writing the stories and drawing the pictures to accompany it. I studied animation for 3 years at Sunderland University. After that, I went down to Falmouth University to do my masters and it was one of the best years of my life. For me, it was almost like being on holiday for a year as it was in a gorgeous location and I got the opportunity to draw pictures all year long. I had tutors to advise and support and who pointed me towards other authors and illustrators to inspire me. As my final piece for my course, I developed a set of books, using an old fashioned way called screen printing and I used them to try and get an agent and publisher. I sent them out to agents to show them the kind of material that I produced and accompanying them was another story I wrote at university called ‘All the things you can be when you fall asleep’. I packaged them in an exciting way so it appears like they want to be opened and also so they would stand out from the crowd since everyone sends things by post in the white or brown envelope. The packaging was made to look like a big tube of sweets and where the ingredients would normally be, I replaced them with a list of the things that had influenced me. I also put a best before date on it so the idea was that rather than going to the bottom of the pile and waiting to be opened, people would assume that there was something inside that would go off like sweets or flowers so it needed to be opened. Rather than waiting 6 months for an answer, I got phone calls and letters straight away in a matter of days with people saying “Yes we like your stuff.” or “No we’re not interested.” Out of the 20 agents I contacted, 2 of them were interested and 18 of them weren’t. One of the ones that did like me was one of the last ones I tried as I’d been walking around in London all day, dropping my work off at loads of places and I didn’t really think I stood a chance with them as they dealt with Hollywood movie scripts and they seemed really impressive and big. One of the other agents I’d tried earlier on in the week had given me my material back so I decided to drop it off with them. About a week later, they rang me up, saying they loved my stuff and asked if they could represent me and I of course agreed. An agent’s job is basically to open doors for you and try and get publishers to take an interest in you. It took 3 years for my first book ‘I have an orange juicy drink’ to transform from a little sample book into the book that is available to buy now. I had to change some parts of it including making the characters less human and increasing the size of things that the characters were squished with so that it was so outlandish and silly that kids wouldn’t ever consider trying it. After the book was altered, it was published and I got some free books to give to my family and friends and I travelled to different places to do readings to promote the book. We are hoping that the other sample books in the set will eventually be published as a series. Since the first book has been published, an animation company in London have approached me about turning it into a TV show but we’ve been working with them already for 2 and a half years so it takes a while to finalise everything. So to sum everything up, you can be a writer or author at any point but to actually earn money from it is tricky. You shouldn’t go into it thinking it’ll be easy; you have to do it because you love it.
- WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR? It makes me happy really. I do it because I love it and the fact that people pay you to do what you love is fantastic. My son has started asking for books at bedtime and sometimes he’ll say “Daddy book.” and point to my book which is so rewarding. One of the best experiences I’ve had as an illustrator was about 2 years ago at a festival in Leeds. I had a fine art print that I’d created and it had come with me to the festival to be sold. Over the course of the festival, I sold some of my prints and books to different people. Five minutes before closing, this lady came along with a pushchair and her husband and she stopped to look at the fine art print. She said she really liked it and asked what it was about. The picture has a little fella holding a candle and the story is that he’s lost in a cave and all he has to see is the candle. Up above him are all the moths which are attracted to the flame and are dancing around it. If you read on the moths wings, there are messages written in morse code. If you write out all the letters from all the moths and combine them, it says ‘There is yet hope in darkest night.’ I explained this to the women and her child was interested in the more bright and colourful art work that I’d done. He wanted to get one with a dinosaur on but she said “No mummy can only get one and mummy wants to get this one because this one is about how mummy feels. You know how mummy struggles to get out of bed or doesn’t always feel happy, well this one reminds mummy that things will get better.” There was obviously something really serious going on in this lady’s life but the idea that someone had connected to my art work in that way and it made them feel better just blew me away. A year later, I saw her again at the festival and she told me that she’d still got the art work and it was at the end of the bed to wake up to every morning. Making kids happy is one thing but knowing you can have the impact on someone like that is absolutely beautiful.
- DID YOU ALWAYS SEE YOURSELF IN THIS CAREER? Yes the trick is to not grow out of it and to just do what you love. I do have another job at Hull College, working with the apprenticeships but I have a day and a half off every week to work on my picture book stuff so I have balance between paying the bills and doing what I love.
- ARE THERE ANY NEGATIVE THINGS ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR/ ILLUSTRATOR? There are a couple of things. Sometimes, when you’re alone, you wonder if you’re an author who’s this close to getting published or just an adult playing around with crayons in your bedroom and no one has told you to stop yet. The other thing is that very few people can understand what it’s like. There aren’t many authors about and this can make the job a bit lonely. However, there are so many positives in the job such as doing what you love and being paid for it. The only other negative I think of is working late to finish deadlines for different things.
- OUT OF THE BOOKS YOU’VE WRITTEN, WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE? I would say that my favourite is ‘Big Charlie’. Like all of my books, it has a message within it and it is one of the books that is based on a true story. ‘I have an orange juicy drink’ and ‘Bath time’ are only very loosely based on reality. My other books are based on my relationships with people that I had when I was growing up. ‘Pretty people have to work too’ links to me and my brother entering the world of work, ‘Ravy’ was about sticking up for my brother and ‘Cheddar’ is about being replaced in a friendship or a relationship. ‘Big Charlie’ was the first one that I wrote and it was about my Dad because when I was down at Falmouth, I had a collapsed lung so I had to go to hospital and have surgery. Even though I was 21, I still needed my parents and my Dad rushed down to Cornwall to see me despite it being so far away. I think it’s easy for people to relate as when something’s wrong, often you just want your parents to come and fix it for you and make it better. Whether you’re 5 or 50, you have that relationship with someone who can always make you feel better.
- DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN 3 WORDS – I’d say that I’m silly, optimistic and happy.
- WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS FOR THE FUTURE? My short term goal is to get my next picture book published because then it removes the fear of me being a one hit wonder. If you can look back after each year and say that you’ve made progress, that’s really encouraging. A long term goal would be to have enough money to just do this full time and to also have a TV show based on my picture books.
- WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT A CAREER IN THIS AREA IN THE FUTURE? I would say don’t be afraid of rejection and decide whether listening to people’s feedback is worth it or not. Just before I got my agent, another author slated my work and made me feel really bad about my work. But I decided that his style was so different to mine and I just needed to keep trying and have hope. Keep persevering and don’t let criticism get you down.
Thank you for reading this post! Interviewing Andy was a very motivating and inspiring experience because this is an area that I’m really interested in so I really appreciate that he allowed me to interview him. There’ll be another post out soon but until then bye for now!
Amelia Grace a.k.a Amelia in Hull